Bible Laying Open on a Table
To Live in Joy


Author: Elaine Stedman

"Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian," said G. K. Chesterton. He suggested that Christianity satisfies man's ancestral instinct for being "the right way up" because "by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small."

Not all will agree with either this claim of Christianity or his definition of joy. By this statement joy is seen as the dominant thesis of Christian faith, while the pagan touches only joy's periphery. Stating it even more graphically Chesterton pictures the unbeliever with "feet dancing upwards in idle ecstasies, while his brain is in the abyss." We find a supporting statement in the Proverbs: "Laughter cannot mask a heavy heart. When the laughter ends, the grief remains."

Certainly, if one is to judge from a large number of morose professing Christians and the vocal claims to joy of the modern pagan, Chesterton claims for both the pagan and the Christian may well seem insupportable. Chesterton may, I believe, be referring to a quality of joy which transcends the pagan's experience. This transcendent and gigantic joy is the heritage of every Christian, in whatever circumstances, and was God's intention for all humanity. The joyless Christian therefore, is either uninformed of his/her inheritance, or distracted from it by lesser pursuits. A Christian without joy is like a clock without hands--hardly typical of the norm!

What, really, is joy? It is perhaps most natural to think of it as an emotion, ranging from merriment to ecstasy, whose opposite is sorrow. However, I would like to focus first and chiefly on joy as a state of mind rather than as an emotion, as perhaps one would discuss a dog without reference to its tail, however vigorously it may wag. While joy certainly does involve emotion, emotion does not define joy, any more than a wagging tail defines a dog.